Turkish prosecutors have reportedly arrested one of the country’s biggest news anchors at the same time as a trial into eight prominent journalists gets underway.
The authorities in Turkey, which ranks near the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index, are reportedly seeking a three-year prison sentence for privately-owned broadcaster Fox TV Turkey’s news anchor Fatih Portakal over a tweet he made.
Prosecutors accuse Portakal of breaking the law when he implied that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime is borrowing from banks amid economic problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Portakal tweeted: “We’re going through difficult times. And now they want money from those with bank deposits or savings, and are blaming it on Corona! Sadly, I can’t report that this will not happen.”
According to reports, he hosts one of the most popular programmes in Turkey and is considered one of the few dissenting voices that remain in mainstream media.
The authorities accuse Portakal of violating banking legislation by implying that the government is using the pandemic as an excuse to borrow money from those holding bank savings or deposits with the promise of paying it back later.
Portakal’s comments followed a speech by the Turkish president, considered one of the biggest jailers of journalists in the world, earlier this month when he referenced measures brought in by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey in 1921.
The measures included high taxes to fund the war and regular financial contributions from all families.
In a written defence included in the indictment, the news anchor said that his Tweet was ironic.
Meanwhile, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s office has ordered the arrest of Erk Acarer, a columnist of the left-wing daily BirGun.
The arrest warrant, which was also confirmed by the newspaper, is over a report which covered the funeral of a member of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) who was killed in Libya.
Acarer, who is now living in exile in Germany, is one of eight journalists indicted with prosecutors reportedly seeking between seven and 18 years in prison for the defendants.
Turkish prosecutors accuse the eight defendants of “disclosure of information relating to the security and political interests of the state”, adding that “those who obtain documents and information concerning the MIT’s duties and operations shall be sentenced”.
The journalists standing trial are known to be critical of Erdogan’s government.
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